In 1534 Dame Cecily Bodenham was made Abbess of Wilton Abbey. Shortly after, in 1539, the Abbey of Wilton was a victim of the Dissolution. The Abbess, suspiciously compliant to the king’s wishes in this matter, was rewarded by the king’s commissioners with a stipend of £100 per annum and a house in Fovant. With her to this house, known today as the Manor Farm House, came twelve of the nuns from Wilton Abbey. While in Fovant Cecily Bodenham is thought to have paid for the building of the south aisle of St George’s Church, but what input she had into the profession of faith and worship in the area is open to conjecture. What is not in doubt however is that since Henry VIII, after an open rift with the Pope, had declared himself the Supreme Head of the English Church, the whole country was caught up in the ensuing religious ferment.
Initially the changes brought in by the Reformation had little effect upon the parish churches. Largely speaking they were limited to the Royal Injunction of 1538, which ordered the installation of the English Bible in each church, and instigated the keeping of registers of baptisms, marriages and burials. Fovant registers date from 1541.
However, eventually, as the following extracts from various legal reports will show, even a small, enclosed community like Fovant was not immune to the effect of the reforms made in the practice of religious worship. So called Recusants, people whose continuing spiritual attachment to the Catholic Church caused them to refuse to attend Church of England services, were often punished for such transgressions.
Visitation Articles and Injunctions of the Reformation – Amos Barter’s Widow at Fovant still secretly kept her beads under her apron.
Commission for the Salisbury Diocese – David Feltham came before the Commission accused of being a suspected recusant.
Recusant Rolls – John Grindle Yeoman of Fovant (was) fined £200.
Quarter Sessions for Wiltshire – Grindle of Fovant prosecuted for Recusancy. (not necessarily the same man)
Quarter Sessions for Wiltshire – ‘Edward Lucas and Dines his wife, John Lucas and Francis his wife, John Trime and Ann his wife all of Fovant, were presented for being Popish Recusants.’
These records cover almost a century during which the balance of favour had swung from the Protestant to the Catholic and then back to the Protestant Religions, as the throne of England was inherited after Henry VIII’s death by his children, Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth.
The country has been largely Protestant ever since, a situation that is reflected in our village today.